An Interview with Tiffany Whitcomb: Helping Teachers Navigate the Classroom

Helping teachers navigate the classroom

Teaching has evolved in recent decades, with educators today meeting more challenges than ever before. The demands of teaching are relentless, as teachers try to maintain safe and meaningful learning environments amidst a spectrum of factors impacting their everyday duties.

Both new and veteran teachers often struggle to navigate classroom management, administrative requirements, and communication issues, varying workloads, and maintain a healthy work/life balance. Without building on their training over time to meet this evolving landscape, they can find themselves experiencing high levels of stress and even career-ending burnout. Despite this, education offers the profound potential to be one of the most rewarding professional opportunities today. 

Tiffany Whitcomb has spent years in education both in and out of the classroom, and her experience has inspired her to help teachers adapt and thrive in this ever-changing environment through her consulting firm Collaborative Teaching Solutions. She has a unique and diverse background that includes education, business, and leadership in athletics, and she brings it all to bear for her clients to support their professional development and ensure a career in teaching is the rewarding and invigorating experience it deserves to be. 

Premiere: How did you get started in education consulting?

Tiffany: I spent nearly 15 years in the classroom as a high school business and CTE teacher (career technical education). I originally went to school for business, and during that time, I was always a passionate athlete. I loved coaching in particular, so I became a sports director after I graduated. 

I enjoyed the competition, but I quickly realized I wasn’t able to invest in the coaching as much as I had hoped because of the amount of admin work on the back end. I switched to teaching high school business until, in 2022, I decided I needed to be home with my children. That's really where Collaborative Teaching Solutions was created. It was inspired by the fact that, when I moved from sports director to teaching, I didn't have the special support that’s needed for these types of teachers. There’s a lot that goes into those positions above and beyond your training in school, and it can feel very sink or swim without some guidance.

For instance, many teachers in CTE roles didn’t receive education degrees, and may not have a complete understanding of best practices for the classroom, lesson planning, or behavioral management strategies. You also miss out on a lot of guidance and insights that your mentors in the profession can offer along the way, and it’s very easy to find yourself drowning in the practical realities of being an educator that your technical expertise won’t prepare you to handle.  

Premiere: What does your company do? 

Tiffany: I work predominantly with CTE teachers to help them get credentialed, and as we build  a relationship we transition to practical guidance that you often don’t get without going through an education degree program. I focus on developing essential skills like classroom management, crafting lesson plans, helping with competencies, and learning about project-based learning. These are all things that may be touched on in school but are often developed on the job, and the learning curve can make life very frustrating along the way. 

Another challenge new teachers often encounter is overcoming a limited comfort level with colleagues and administrators. Because they are outsiders to some extent, they may be nervous asking questions or lack fluency in communication protocols. Throughout my time working with these teachers, we build rapport that allows me to provide confidential insight for their challenges and concerns. I have found that, in many cases, they just need an honest conversation, and my role allows me to discuss problems compassionately, share my own experiences, and provide comfort and reassurance that these are common struggles.

Premiere: What strengths and weaknesses do you tend to notice in new teachers? 

Tiffany: New teachers arrive with a fresh perspective, and they have a lot of enthusiasm and creativity. Quite a bit is still in the works, but by providing some key insights, you can lead them to use their natural creativity to find solutions to the problems they're facing.

Specific to teachers who went through the traditional pathway of earning a degree in Education, the weaknesses I see relate to the gap between what they learned in school and how that translates to the classroom. For instance, in college, the expectation is to create very detailed lesson plans for their coursework. However, from a practical perspective, they’re not going to be able to have that type of lesson plan every day for all the subjects they teach. Part of my job is showing them where and how planning will be a big help, and when they need to wait and see how their students develop.  

For all teachers, another gap is managing all the moving pieces educators inevitably deal with. When I was teaching, I would get to school at 7 o'clock, and sometimes I would have a student already waiting at my door. I desperately wanted to build a relationship with them and help them with their work, but class was also starting in 30 minutes and I already had a long list of things I needed to get done.

It can be hard to know what the right solution is for that moment: how do you create that relationship, but also set a boundary so that you can complete the tasks that you need to be doing?

Premiere: What causes teacher burnout?

Tiffany: There’s a lot of factors. It can be as simple as whether you teach in a suburban school vs a city school, or a middle school vs elementary, because every teacher needs to find a grade level and location that works for them. A teacher who is in a situation that isn’t a good fit for their skills and comfort level may come to the mistaken conclusion that they are on the wrong career path. However, if they were simply in a different environment, they might feel highly successful. 

If you’re more naturally adept at one environment or another, constantly dealing with aspects of your job that aren’t intuitive can have a big impact on your overall experience. It can lead to extreme stress and feelings of self doubt. Burnout can also occur at any point in your career. In the first few years, it tends to be more mental health-related, and for veterans it’s usually along the lines of, “We’re fine, but we're just exhausted!”

Premiere: What are important qualities a new teacher should have?

Tiffany: I would say they have to have that grit. This may sound funny, but if I had a suggestion for anybody wanting to be a teacher it would be to go take a sales class. As teachers, we need to realize that we’re always selling our curriculum and methods to our various stakeholders, like students, parents, administration, and colleagues. We're also selling our students on being excited about it, and we’re selling our colleagues on new courses or lesson plans that we want to implement.

With sales comes a lot of rejection, and you have to persevere through that and recognize it's not personal. I think a lot of teachers take the actions or inactions of their students, parents, or community members personally when their ideas are rejected, and that can quickly wear you out emotionally and professionally. 

Premiere: How do you develop a supportive classroom and culture?

Tiffany: Like in sales, 99% of your job as a teacher is communicating, and it’s critical for building the trusting relationships that effective education requires. If you don’t communicate effectively, your intentions and ideas may be misunderstood, or stakeholders may not feel valued or understood. 

Think about this: Most people, during their education, have one or several teachers who make a memorable or profound impact on their lives. Was the impact content related or was it because of how the teacher made them feel? That relationship and dynamic is at the core of teaching, and the same is true for colleagues and parents. If people do not feel heard or valued, relationships will tend to break down. A good teacher can engage their students with the curriculum and motivate them to perform well, even if those students are not completely interested in the subject matter.

When I started teaching I didn't have the support and the guidance I want to deliver for my clients today. Many new teachers—whether in CTE or more traditional roles—can benefit from guidance and support through the transition to the professional environment and the challenges it presents. Whether it’s understanding practical classroom strategies, developing communication skills, or just getting some basic feedback and support, I want to help make their career in education as fulfilling and rewarding as possible. 

Seeing the results of our collaboration and hearing their feedback is incredibly inspiring for me as an educational consultant, and it’s why I love collaborating with Premiere. Creating meaningful professional development content that can make a difference for teachers struggling with issues like classroom management is a constant reminder that teaching is about growing and developing—no matter which side of the desk you’re on. 

To learn more from Tiffany, courses like Classroom Management I - Creating Classroom Expectations and Classroom Management II - Quick Everyday Tricks to Create a Positive and Safe Classroom Environment are designed to help teachers craft and implement practical strategies for making their classrooms inclusive and supportive spaces for education. 

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